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Mental capacity is a term used to describe an individual who has the ability to make their own decisions. Having mental capacity means that they are able to understand information and make an informed decision or choice.

All individuals have the right to make their own decisions. However, sometimes it is assumed that because they have a condition that can affect their cognitive abilities they are no longer able to make their own decisions. By assuming a person has capacity, opportunities can be provided that enable the person to make their own decisions which helps them to feel empowered, confident and in control.

‘Advance statements’ ensure that an individual’s wishes are taken into account in the future. This is often referred to as 'advance care planning'. The purpose is to enable an individual to make choices and decisions about their future care and support in case there is a time when they are unable to make these decisions for themselves, for example in the later stages of dementia. This can ensure that an individual is not given any care or treatment that they do not wish to receive but will receive the care they wish to have.

Many employers will provide further training, guidance or supervision to help health and social care workers understand mental capacity issues. Speak with your manager about opportunities to learn more about this important area.

It is essential that the individual is supported to find ways of communicating before a decision about their capacity is made. This might involve family, friends, carers and other workers. An assessment should be made based on the balance of probabilities. For example, is it more likely than not, that the person lacks capacity?

There are five key principles that everyone must follow when assessing capacity, these are:

Always assume that the person can make their own decision;

Ensure all possible support is provided to make sure the person can make their own decision;

Do not assume someone cannot make a decision because you feel they are making an unwise or unsafe decision;

If it has been identified that the person cannot make a decision, someone can make a decision that is deemed to be in that person’s best interest;

And finally, if a person makes a decision on behalf of the individual, this must be the least restrictive option.

If you are supporting a person who is struggling to make decisions, it is important that you apply the five key principles. An assessment of capacity may need to be made when a person is unable to make a particular decision at a specific time. The Mental Capacity Act 2005 applies to supporting an individual to make both day-to-day decisions (for example what to eat) and complex choices such as around care and support or managing finances. A Mental Capacity assessment is decision-specific and the principles must be applied to individual decisions.

It is important to remember that an individual may lack the capacity to make a specific decision, such as around their finances, but this does not mean that they lack capacity to make all decisions.